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Ultimate San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide in Chile

Pie Experiences / Adventure Travel  / Ultimate San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide in Chile
moon valley san pedro de atacama
16 Aug

Ultimate San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide in Chile

Welcome to our San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide, to make the most of your trip to this truly breathtaking array of natural wonders.

From the magic of stargazing in pristine skies, to mesmerising views of salt flats scattered with flamingos, to the turquoise of the Lagunas Altiplánicas, there are so many trips to capture the imagination in the Atacama Desert.

Plan your stay in the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The perfect base for exploring the enchanting landscapes of the surrounding desert that this San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide offers.

Why is the Atacama Desert so special?

atacama desert wildlife desert fox

A Desert Fox near San Pedro de Atacama. Picture by Giacomo Russo.

The Atacama Desert is in the north of Chile between La Serena on the Pacific coast and Arica on the northern border with Peru.

While the desert takes up about 105,000 km2 (40,541 sq mi), you can marvel at the beauty in the area that surrounds San Pedro de Atacama.

This is driest desert in the world, with just 15 mm (0.6 in) of rainfall on average. The unique conditions in this harsh environment means it is used by NASA to test for Mars missions. It is also a centre for world excellence in astronomy.

The landscape is made up of salt flats, mountains, volcanoes and lagoons. The desert is full of flora and fauna to enjoy. Unusual wild native herbs, flowers and cacti grow in abundance. In addition you can see animals such as flamingos, desert foxes, vicuñas (a kind of wild llama) and viscachas (wild chinchillas).

 

 

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– How to Get There

From Santiago

There are eight flights a day from Santiago therefore plane is your most convenient way to travel to San Pedro de Atacama.

It is noteworthy that there is no airport in tiny San Pedro de Atacama. Even so, it is still easy to arrive in the heart of the desert. The nearest airport is in Calama and it takes just two hours to fly there. San Pedro de Atacama is then an hour and half away by road.

However if you have more time and prefer a more leisurely trip then there are a few different bus companies to choose from.

All of these run about 24 hours of travel time and leave in the late afternoon.

The bus company Tur Bus is our recommendation as it offers the only non-stop journey from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama without a change in Calama.

 

From Lima

LATAM runs three flights a day to Calama. All flights leaving Lima stop first in Santiago and then land in Calama, taking seven hours in total.

To get from Lima to San Pedro by bus requires a change in Arica and can take in excess of 30 hours. As a result catching a flight is our recommended option.

 

From Buenos Aires

As with Lima, all flights from Buenos Aires run through Santiago in Chile. The flight time is approximately 5 hours overall and is by far the most convenient option.

Another option is to fly to Salta from Buenos Aires and then catch a bus for 12 hours to San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– When to Visit

As the Atacama Desert is always dry and sunny there is no need to time your trip around the weather. However the best times to visit, when there are fewer tourists are in October and November or from March to April.

If you are a stargazer then you might wish to avoid travelling around the full moon. The darker the skies the better!

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– What to Do

Wander amongst the otherworldly Tatio Geysers

tattoo geysers san pedro de atacama travel guide

The Tatio geyser field at dawn. Picture by Giacomo Russo.

Experience one of the world’s highest Geyser fields at over 4,000 metres (11,000 feet).

Although in order to see the geysers in their full glory it will be a very early start before sunrise, it’s more than worth it. Witness the power of the earth firsthand as you stroll near the bubbling and steaming geysers.

Following the walk a much-need breakfast is usually served next to the field. The smell of sulphur fills the crisp morning air as you enjoy hot toast and coffee.

 

Visit the awe-inspiring Valley of the Moon

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama travel guide

The Valley of the Moon at sunset. Picture by Ounie Christianson.

Valle de la Luna is the perfect introduction to the extraterrestrial landscapes of the desert.

During the day explore the valley itself on foot, viewing the craggy rock formations fashioned by millennia of wind and water.

Afterward, as the sun begins to set, take in the valley at dusk as the golden sun highlights the salt rocks and sand dunes. You will find it hard not be impressed by this incredible natural show.

Discover the majestic flamingos at the Atacama salt flats

flamingos in san pedro de atacama travel guide

Flamingos on Laguna Chaxa, in the Salar de Atacama. Picture by Giacomo Russo.

Visit the largest salt flat in Chile, the Salar de Atacama. Spot the shy and pretty pink flamingoes that stalk the waters of Laguna Chaxa, at its heart.

A flat expanse that is surrounded on all sides by huge volcanoes, the Salar de Atacama is 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi). It stretches as far as the eye can see!

At the visitors centre learn all about the different types of flamingo and other animals that inhabit this colourful landscape.

Soar over the dessert in a hot air balloon

For an exhilarating and unrivalled vantage point of all that the desert has to offer, enjoy a three-hour hot air balloon flight.

Relax and take in the stunning vistas in safety and luxury. Before the ride, there are pastries and juices for breakfast. Afterwards beverages including champagne are served. There is no better way to reveal the secrets of the Atacama Desert.

Explore shimmering lagoons in the shadow of volcanoes

laguna miscanti san pedro de atacama travel guide

Laguna Miscanti overlooked by the Miñiques peak. Picture by Ounie Christianson.

The Altiplano Lagoons, Lagunas Altiplanicas of Miscanrti and Mistique are colours of blue you won’t ever has seen before.

To add to this, towering over the heart-shaped Laguna Miscanti are two giant volcanoes. They add extra drama to the uniquely beautiful vista. Then you can lunch next to the one of the Lagunas, drinking in the view as you revitalise.

Enjoy stargazing in the desert after dark

Staring up the sky, rather than down at it’s landscapes is another way to get under the skin of this incredible place.

The Atacama desert boasts the clearest skies on earth so don’t hesitate to take a midnight trip and prepare for the dazzling array of stars in the heavens to amaze you. You can see galaxies, Milky Ways and constellations not normally visible to human eyes.

In addition you can take a tour of the Alma observatory, the largest astronomical project in the world.

 

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– Where to Stay

Terrantai Lodge Andino

This charming lodge located right in the heart of San Pedro de Atacama has comfy and clean rooms for two.

Furthermore, this peaceful place has a plant-filled patio and sustainably run outdoor pool for your enjoyment.

Kimal Hotel

The rooms in this beautifully designed hotel are for couples and small groups, which all lead out onto a terrace area.

As well as the usual amenities Kimal Hotel also boasts an onsite restaurant serving local gourmet food, swimming pool and jacuzzi.

Tierra Atacama

Tierra Atacama is a convenient drive away from the main plaza. Peaceful gardens surround the hotel, making it the perfect space for both contemplation and work.

The in-house spa offers a wide range of treatments to all visitors for maximum relaxation in a tranquil environment.

Alto Atacama Luxury Hotel

Located in the lush Catarpe Valley this ecologically harmonious lodge has something for everyone, from spa to restaurant and excursions.

A popular choice in San Pedro de Atacama, whilst there are many rooms to choose from, it’s an advantage to book your room here early.

Awasi Atacama Luxury Hotel

Stay in one of just ten gorgeous luxury suites, where the design is inspired by pre-Incan ruins, with thatched roves and al fresco showers.

In addition to enjoying the delicious food in the restaurant you can take part in a cooking class with the resident chef.

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– Where to Eat

Blanco

Offering a fresh modern take on Chilean classic cuisine, Blanco is restaurant and sushi bar rolled into one. Enjoy the serene surroundings whilst tucking into some seriously delicious food.

La Estaka

Right in the heart of town this old favourite serves up a vital mixture of international and local food. Enjoy the fresh seasonal ingredients prepared here, for a tasty experience.

The Restaurant at the Awasi Atacama

Enjoy a real gourmet experience at this eaterie situated inside the Awasi Atacama hotel. Promising to use the best ‘tasty and healthy ingredients’ the food here is a real treat for the tastebuds.

 

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Guide

– What to Pack

The desert can be a tricky place to pack for. We suggest preparing for various climates.

For high temperatures and strong sun during the day:
Cap
Sunglasses
Sunblock
Bathing Suit
Flip flops

For low temperatures and exposure to the elements on early starts and at night:
Warm Hat
Gloves
Warm and waterproof layers
Walking boots

So, you can now plan your trip of a lifetime with our San Pedro de Atacama travel guide and discover the allure of the desert for yourself.

Contact us for more information, or to customise your unique Chilean tour.

 

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Ounie Christianson

Ounie put her publishing career in London on hold to explore South America with no return ticket. She is currently delving into unique cultures, attempting new languages, devouring veggie food and writing about it all on her blog, tickettonow.com

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